Kalidasa's second epic is 'Raghuvamsha'. There are nineteen chapters ('sargas') in this
poem. The epic describes the history of the kings Dileepa, Raghu, Aja, Dasharatha, Sri
Rama, Lava and Kusha. It also deals briefly with the twenty kings from Nala up to
Agnivarna.In thebeginning, the poet extols the fine qualities of the kings of Raghu
The dynasty is a noble one. Those belonging to it have their early education at the right
time from distinguished teachers. They are married at the right age and rule justly
adhering to 'Dharma' (law of righteousness). As they grew old, they renounced the kingdom
in favor of the younger incumbents and led a life of saintly renunciation and ultimately
renounced the mortal life by way of 'yoga'. They earned wealth so that they would offer it
to the worthy who are in need. They liked to conquer a kingdom for the thrill of success.
Culprits were punished. Those kings were ever vigilant, generally un daunted and strove
their best to achieve their goal. They ruled a kingdom stretching up to the
seashore. They would even drive a chariot right up to the Heavens. The poet asserts
that his main aim in writing this poem is to celebrate the ideal royal qualities of the
kings of the clan of Raghu and to portray the history of a galaxy of such men. The story
begins with king Dileepa.
Dileepa, as portrayed by the poet, was a majestic personality. He was impressively built,
broad-shouldered, tall. In effect he personified Wshatradharma' (the royal tradition). His
intellect matched his physique. That intellect matched his vast learning. His actions were
dictated by his superior knowledge and the results were true to his efforts. His consort
Sudakshina was an ideal wife worried at not having children; they go to the 'ashram' of
the great sage Vashishta who suggests to them that they offer obeisance to Nandini, the
calf of the Heavenly Cow Kamadhenu.
Accordingly, Dileepa follows Nandini to the forest daily and serves her for twenty-one
days. On the last day, a lion attacksNandini and when Dileepa tries to draw an arrow
from his bow to kill the beast, lo, his hand gets stuck on the bow. The lion, speaking
like human beings, tells him to return to the ashram, as the cow was his meal.
thereupon offers his own body as food for the lion. Then the lion disappears. In fact the
lion was the creation of Nandini herself to test the king. She blesses him and says he
would beget children when he drank her milk.
They return to the 'ashram' where the royal couple drink the milk and return to the
capital. In due course, Sudakshina gives birth to a son who was named Raghuraja. The
poets' description gives us a fine picture of a great king devoted to truth and highest
moral and spiritual ideals. The close contact between the kings and sages and the fact
that great personalities are born when the heroic king is blessed by a sage whose life is
a saga of purity, are narrated memorably.
The poet then goes on to tell us the story of Raghu. Even while he was the Prince, he had
displayed his prowess byprotecting the horse his father had sent out on a victorious march
at the time of conducting an Ashwamedha (a sacrifice featuring a highbred horse). A fierce
battle rages between Raghu and the king of the 'Devas' Indra at the time of Dileepa's one
hundredth 'Ashwamedha' sacrifice. Impressed by Raghu's heroism, Indra blesses
Dileepa to enjoy the fruits of the sacrifice. Thereupon, Dileepa hands over the reigns of
the kingdom to his son and goes away to the forest to spend his last days in penance.
Raghu defeated several kings and expanded his domain, conducted a great sacrifice called
Vishwajit Yaga and then gave away all his worldly riches in charity. At that time, Kautsa,
the son of a sage, comes and asks for some money to pay as 'Gurudakshina' (tribute to his
guru). But the king had by then donated all his wealth and belongings. The king could only
offer him sanctified water from an earthen bowl. When he learnt of the need of the sage's
son, he decided to wage a war against Kubera, the God of Wealth, but the latter hastens to
aid Raghu and fills his treasury to enable him to fulfil the desire to make the gift to
A son is born to Raghu and. is named Aja. He was extremely good-looking and of a
tender nature. On coming of age, he goes to the Swayamvara (where the bride choose her
groom from amongst several aspirants) of princess Indumati of the province of Vidarbha. As
she entered the Swayamvara Hall, her maid Sunanda introduces each prince describing his
physical features, heroism and prowess. None appeals to the princess. Sunanda then
introduces prince Aja and extols his fine qualities and his illustrious family. Indumati
garlands him accepting his hand in marriage. Kalidasa's description of this Swayamvara is
a very pleasant one. The princes' descriptions are not overdone, Their physical strength,
heroic disposition, riches are all described with absorbing interest. None has been
belittled. Indumati does not reject other suitors because of any defects in them.However,
each person has a nature distinct to himself, the poet feels, and one cannot reason out
why a person particularly falls in love with another. The narrative here shows the poets'
high taste, aesthetic awareness of beauty and also a lively light-heartedness.
The marriage of Indumati with Aja is performed in a grand manner. But then, the
disappointed princes attack them vengefully and fierce battle ensues. Aja defeats all of
them and triumphantly returns to his capital with his bride. Raghu instantly recognizes
his son's heroism and majesty, gladly hands over the reigns of the kingdom and goes to
live in a hermitage on the outskirts of Ayodhya. A father who ascends a seat of
renunciation ('Yoga') and a son who ascends the throne -- the stance and actions of the
two personalities are narrated with moving lyricism and understanding. The father is
guided by sages and the son is assisted by ministers. The former has conquered all the
worldly desires in him while the latter has defeated enemies outside. Raghu's life
displays a personality that shows how one can achieve that exquisite serenity and peace if
only one could concentrate on total devotion to God. Likewise, the pleasures of living a
man of sterling qualities can achieve and enjoy are evidenced in the life of Aja. Though
both Dileepa and Raghu are great men, we notice a difference in them.
As laid down by our learned ancestors, a man should have four goals before him:
spiritual awareness or righteousness ('Dharma'), acquisition of wealth ('Artha'), love or
a desire for physical pleasure ('Kama'), and ultimately salvation ('Moksha'), Neither the
desire to earn wealth nor the urge for pleasures of life is wrong but they should be
accompanied by a sense of righteousness. One should try to acquire wealth through moral
means; he should earn it in a manner, which does not do any injustice to others.
He should spend money for right and good causes. He should not take
to wrong or harmful ways, which may hurt others. He should live a life, which could bring
him salvation when death approaches and seeks to be one with divinity. We see that
Dileepa's life is dominated by 'Dharma'. He is so self-sacrificing as to offer himself as
food for the lion, which comes to attack Nandini. And we find the true meaning of 'Artha'
(acquisition and spending of wealth) in the life of Raghu. While conquering many domains,
he gives away all his riches to those he found deserving and at last he is left with only
an earthen bowl for himself!
Aja's rule had earned the affection of all his subjects. One day he was holidaying in the
garden outside the city with his wife. Sage Narada was passing through that sky-route when
a heavenly garland adorning his Veena slipped down and hit Indumati who instantly
collapsed, and breathed her last. His aides shock Aja to unconsciousness and wakes up
after ministrations. Resting Indumati's head on his lap, he laments: "Should a flower
take away your life? Why don't I die even as I hold this garland? It's God's will that
poison could turn into nectar and the latter may change into poison. You were everything
to me--wife, counselor, aide and my disciple in learning of arts. By snatching you away,
death has robbed me of everything".
Aja had a son Dasharatha who at that time was still a young boy. The king managed to live
for eight more years when he hands over the crown to him; he then goes to the
confluence of the rivers Ganga and Sarayu and breathes his last in that holy spot.
The poet has illustrated 'Kama' ('desire for pleasure') in the life of Aja. Here we see
the portrayal of his happy life with Indumati as well as of his anguish upon her sad
demise. Aja Paines for her and ends his life by drowning in the river as he cannot bear
the pangs of separation from his beloved wife. It is an excellent example of devoted love.
The stories of king Dileepa, Raghu and Aja are told in the first eight 'sargas' (chapters)
and the subsequent chapters deal with the lives of Dasharatha, Sri Rama and the brothers
Lava and Kusha. The poet presents here the theme of Ramayana in a condensed form. The
story of Ramayana is quite well known but Kalidasa's narration can be said to be unique.
Valmiki's original narrative is marked by simplicity and grace, shining likes a pure
diamond. Kalidasa's handling of this theme makes this diamond shine more glitteringly by
After Kusha, his son Atithi ascends the throne. Kalidasa is full of praise for this young
king and emphasizes that he ruled as dictated by 'Dharma', successfully protected his
kingdom from enemies; sages were performing their penance unhindered.
Kalidasa lists twenty kings belonging to the Raghu dynasty
who ruled after Atithi.
According to the poet, Agnivarna, the last of this clan, was a pleasure-seeker who forgot
his kingly duties and obligations. It was said that he would bestow anaudience to those
who came to see him by relaxing at window stretching his legs on the windowsill. Disease
bedeviled him and upon his death, his wife fulfilled the obligation as a queen with the
help of wise old ministers. Thus ends the description of the Raghu clan on a sad note.
'Raghuvamsha' depicts our ancient, historical culture and
tradition. Our ancestors had discussed in detail about such matters as to who could be a
good ruler, who is a man of 'tapas' (penance), how one should lead a good, purposeful life
and the like. The poet has portrayed diverse characters like Vashishta, Dileepa, Raghu,
Aja and others. Agnivarna is an example of a king who could be termed as 'depraved'.